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I work for a small company (in Europe) with 150 employees and on their website they have a list of employees with names, photos and positions.

I'm currently not there but have been asked to provide a photo so they can add me. I told them I don't want to but was told it's standard.

I have an unusual name, probably the only one in the world, and I don't want my photo and where I work to be shown when my name is searched for on Google.

How can I tell the company that I don't want this without looking like I'm a serial killer with something to hide? Or at least omit the result when my name is Googled.

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    Where in the world are you? In Europe you have to do nothing. Because they cannot do this without your consent. Just say "no thanks". In other parts of the world, other rules may apply and people may have different ways of handling it.
    – nvoigt
    Sep 3 at 9:37
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    please add a country tag, as @nvoigt already mentioned the location will matter in that case..
    – iLuvLogix
    Sep 3 at 9:39
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    Would it be possible to use a nickname? I used one for years at one company.
    – David R
    Sep 3 at 14:17
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    If you're worried about Google results then submit a Personal Information Removal Request Form
    – Aaron F
    Sep 3 at 16:58
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    One piece of advice I always offer in these situations. Don't refuse. Your position is that you will decline - this frames their desire as something both positive and optional. You decline things with a simple email saying "thanks, but I don't want to do that" - once you think of it this way the wording will come easily to you. Sep 5 at 14:17

10 Answers 10

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How can I approach the company that I don't want this

That depends on the location, in the EU with GDPR in place your employer can't just publish a photo and your name on their website without your consent.

Some companies issue employment-contracts where you'll find such a clause where you give them consent to do so.

My advice to you is to check your contract - if you haven't such a clause in your contract then your employer can't just publish your name and picture (at least in the EU).

If there is such a clause and you have signed it, then you could try to either renegotiate that contract or try to speak to HR and ask them to make an exemption.

Be prepared that they will obviously ask you why you don't want such a publication, so try to formulate some good arguments.

Another option, considering that you might have an unique and unusual name, would be to ask them if they would be satisfied with just mentioning your forename and the abbreviated surname (i.e. John D.) or the other way around (i.e. J. Doe) - this way Google's little creepy-crawly spiders won't scrape your full identity and the search results won't be so specific.

Addition related to @toolforger's & SJuan76's comments:

If the position within the company warrants for such a publication (i.E. CEO or similar representative positions) and there's legitimate interest, it might be more difficult to claim their rights in regards to the GDPR.

A good, detailed article especially about GDPR-compliance in regards to using/publishing personal data and pictures of employees can be found here.

Some fun-facts about the Top 5 biggest fines for GDPR-breaches..

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    Ha...Nice try! I can guess your name is John Doe...
    – user96551
    Sep 3 at 20:25
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    Just make sure the photo filename does not have your full name
    – Zefiryn
    Sep 3 at 22:58
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    Actually the GDPR has exceptions: (1) if it's necessary so that contractual obligations can be fulfilled - a PR person can't refuse to be named on the company website, for example; (2) if the interest for publishing outweighs the interest for keeping the data private.
    – toolforger
    Sep 4 at 7:39
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    There's a danger that a partial name will be expanded to the full name by someone who's maintaining the page and fills in the "missing" information. Sep 4 at 11:40
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    I am not sure that "you have agreed to this in the contract" would hold if the OP decided to take the case to the data protection authorities. Generally consent needs to be free, meaning that the consenter cannot be told "you will be fired if you do not agree to this." I can see some options if the company has a legitimate interest (e.g. if the OP was the CEO or spokesman of the company, or in charge of customer relationships).
    – SJuan76
    Sep 4 at 17:53
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I told them I don't want to but was told it's standard.

This is what you can say:

"Yes, I understand it's standard, but I don't want to."

In case they repeat their request, you just repeat the same thing:

"Yes, I understand everyone is doing it, but I don't want to."

If they say your request is silly. Just agree with that, but don't change your stance.

"Yes, I understand that this refusal seems silly to you, but this is my right. Under the GDPR, I don't need to explain myself or my reasoning."

In other words, even they try to shame you or imply something with your non-compliance, don't even try to argue that part, just hold your ground.

This is the beauty of the situation. You don't need to justify your reasoning. You don't need to convince them of anything. You don't need to convince them that you're a good guy. You don't even need to defend yourself. The only thing you have to say is that you don't want to.

And if they continue insisting, write this out over email, so you have a timestamped record of your refusal. And be sure to communicate over that email that it's not just the picture that you don't want on there, you don't want your last/full name on there as well (because if you're not explicit or assertive about this, it's very likely that they will try putting your name up there with a blank picture frame). And if you really want to make sure your last name doesn't appear on that web page, create a bot that monitors that web page every 24 hours and checks for your last name.

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    One thing to add: if you're going back and forth with them, the best thing to say is "I'm worried you're not understanding me. I don't want my details published. Can you confirm you won't publish that info without my consent, which I won't give?" Like you say there's a risk that they will push forward if they're being obtuse and once that stuff is out there rolling it back is much harder.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 3 at 22:21
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    "I understand that this refusal seems silly to you" is much much better than "I understand this is silly". If the OP says "I understand this is silly", it sounds as if they're just doing it out of the pleasure of being a pain in the ass.
    – Stef
    Sep 4 at 8:46
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    Life provides so many reasons for not wanting publicity (even if you are not identified uniquely) and gives so little time for learning to cope with them, that anyone professional will not care why, and will certainly not provide judgement. If they do judge, acknowledge their opinion, but do not agree with it. Even more so if you happen to work in a relatively small setting, where everyone feels they are friends.
    – ignis
    Sep 4 at 13:54
  • What matters in the end is you're a good employee. If the company thinks you're good enough to show you on their website, that's nice (and it would be nice of you to thank / acknolwedge it briefly) but not expected, unless it's tied to your job for any reason, and if the company has plenty of other ways to show their appreciation to you anyway.
    – ignis
    Sep 4 at 13:58
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    This. Good ol' 'Broken Record'
    – mcalex
    Sep 5 at 14:54
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How can I approach the company that I don't want this without looking a serial killer with something to hide?

First, this is a normal request so I don't think you should worry about looking like your reason for asking is something nefarious. Anyone assuming that isn't being reasonable.

As someone who also almost the only [First Name Last Name] on the Internet, I can empathize. However, most people aren't so it probably hasn't occurred to them that this is an issue and not just a preference of yours. (I'm not sure why they haven't heard of stalkers or harassers or why that possibility didn't occur to them with your initial request.)

After dealing with the contract as explained by iLuvLogix, you might say something like:

Because I have a unique name, it is extremely easy to find information about me online when my full name is used. I have to be very careful about what personal information is made public for privacy and security reasons. I need to remain unlisted on the website.

I like iLuvLogix's other suggestion of using some other version of your name (a pseudonym would be even better if they'd allow it) but if it's important to you to try to be unlisted completely, don't open with that suggestion because they'll jump straight to it. Give your reason for needing to remain unlisted first and suggest the compromise if they push back again.

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  • I disagree with giving a reason. A good negotiator - which HR might be - will begin deflecting that reason. Not giving a reason is one of the best strategies when possible.
    – dotancohen
    Sep 5 at 15:28
  • @dotancohen I suppose my answer does assume that the HR person is just clueless and not malicious. Stephan Branczyk already has a very excellent answer making the "don't explain anything" argument, so I'll edit mine to explain why I'm making this suggestion.
    – BSMP
    Sep 6 at 3:47
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    +1 for treating colleagues like human beings and not like adversaries. Not giving a reason (or even emphasizing that "I'm not legally required to give a reason") is just rude on an interpersonal level and should be reserved as an escalation step. Sure, it's often necessary, but I'd always start by assuming that the other person is reasonable.
    – Heinzi
    Sep 6 at 13:11
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It is very simple. Say "I have a unique name and I am careful about my online presence. I don't want my identity on your website." Anyone sane will respect that.

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    I would just amend this to say "I don't want my identity on our web site". Also, I would make this statement over email, this way there is a timestamped written record of it. Sep 3 at 20:48
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    anyone sane unfortunately does not always include HR departments and/or bosses. The insanities we have all seen done in the holy name of "policy" is enough to show us that.
    – StephenG
    Sep 4 at 1:07
  • Actually the request isn't even insane. It saves them having to answer customer/vendor questions.
    – toolforger
    Sep 4 at 7:37
  • @StephenG I'd go further and say that most corporate work is insane these days. These are white collar "bullshit jobs", generally speaking, designed to perpetuate annual budgets and keep up the illusion of growth. Some retail banks, for example, employe hundreds of thousand of people. Any one of those retail banks could be cut back to an employee count in the hundreds and still maintain the same level of service. In this climate, the best approach for any employee is simply toe the line and avoid asking too many deep questions about the "why" of anything. It's a world of insecurities.
    – Frank
    Sep 6 at 7:13
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I know of several people who use a different name for work from their personal life. (Mostly married women who keep their maiden name for work but take a family name -- but also men do it too.)

If you job involves being a point of contact for the public, or suppliers, contractors and clients, then your name needs to be discoverable.

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  • This is a good solution, and is not uncommon. Even executives often use an alias. Perhaps even start using a nickname. Sep 6 at 6:49
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I would like to add another aspect which has not been mentioned yet. Your employer has a duty to protect you. This can extend as far as not publishing your name/picture/etc. if it could lead to a disadvantage for you.

Since you mention an "unusual" name you might simply discuss with HR what disadvantage you could suffer from it being publicly known. Does it expose you to being ridiculed? I had a co-worker once from Austria. His family name was "Kanalgeruch" ("sewer stench") most likely because his ancestors worked in that "area". After people making fun of his name, the company decided to remove him from the website.

I myself refused to be mentioned or shown on the website of my former employer because I was working with topics that could cause me trouble in my wife's homecountry.

In both cases key was: talk to them! Explain them the issue and they will understand!

Most importantly:

Don't go to HR and threaten them with a lawsuit! Instead contact HR and ask them for their help. People like to help others in need!

Have a meeting, explain your issue and the most likely outcome will be: "I see what I can do for you" followed by a "We understand your situation and grant you an exception from company policy."

Stay nice - ask for help, don't demand - explain your point of view but also try to understand theirs

I'm sure this will be a minor issue once you talked it through with them.

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If you have one, focusing on the real bad guy may be an option.

Even something as simple as "I have had trouble with stalkers in the past." would be seen as a reasonable reason by most reasonable people, if you are not comfortable just stonewalling the request.

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    Lying is never a good idea. What's wrong with telling the truth here ?
    – xryl669
    Sep 6 at 16:56
  • @xryl669, I'm not suggesting to lie. I'm saying that if there is a particular bad guy motivating the reticence, mentioning that (even quite vaguely) is more likely to get an understanding response than a more vague distrust of the internet at large.
    – Josiah
    Sep 7 at 0:07
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Another way to approach this may be to point out to the company that having all of this data discoverable on their website makes them much more vulnerable to targeted phishing attacks. You could perhaps encourage them to remove the entire thing, and then instead of looking like you're objecting to have your details on the page, it then instead looks like you're being concerned about the company's security.

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  • I'm surprised no one else pointed this really important point out!
    – Alan Dev
    Sep 8 at 17:56
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How can I tell the company that I don't want this without looking a serial killer with something to hide? Or at least omit the result when my name is Googled.

It is in the interest of the management to promote a culture where people do not consider important to protect their privacy. It makes easier to track and control from remote their employees. The attitude of the kind "if you want to protect your privacy then you have something to hide" happens often. People describing someone as strange because they don't want a Facebook or a Viber account are common. But in truth they understand your point, their attitude is hypocritical and made on purpose. Don't be intimidated by it. Just tell them that it is your right to stay out of that page and if it is a company rule then that rule is illegal.

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My strategy when I don't want to do something like this is not to engage in a dialogue, just ignore the request and follow ups and usually it just goes away eventually.

This would be easy since you're not actually there. If I can't avoid replying I just make a delaying excuse and then go back to ignoring it.

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    Although in some situations, not engaging in a dialogue is the best way to prevent things from happening; in the OP's situation it sounds as if the only thing that HR is asking from the OP is for a picture; they already seem quite ready to publish all the OP's private information on the website without the OP's consent. So, staying silent is maybe not going to stop them, and voicing the refusal might be more effective.
    – Stef
    Sep 4 at 8:51
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    @Stef perhaps you should compose an answer based on that. Question is specifically about the addition of the photo.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 4 at 8:55
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    Also, HR may request the OPs picture for perfectly valid reasons ("we want a picture of you in our records so that security personnel can check that you are not an intruder"). So it is not as if the OP can flatly refuse to provide a photo, he might object to it being used without a legitimate use but not to legitimate uses.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 4 at 17:57
  • @SJuan76 yep, that's why ignoring and delaying is a very widely used strategy, because it works without being confrontational or complicated.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 5 at 9:23
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    It's unprofessional to do this and frustrating to others who are trying to get their work done. Have a spine, state your objection tersely, and move on. Sep 6 at 6:46

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